On February 17, 2023, the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation will celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Day, with the goal of normalizing kindness. On this day, the Foundation will promote kindness at work, school, and home, and encourage people to become “RAKtivists,” or “Random Acts of Kindness Activists.” As this day is celebrated, we are reminded of our duty to “pay it forward” and give back to our communities. One way to show random acts of kindness is to volunteer your time or talents within your community, and it turns out that this sort of activity can be beneficial for your mental health, especially if you live with depression.
The Link Between Volunteering and Mental Health
Studies have found that the act of volunteering can have a positive effect on mental health, especially during midlife and beyond. One recent study found that people who regularly volunteered experienced better mental wellbeing when compared to those who never engaged in volunteer activities. Study results showed that the benefits of volunteering appeared after the age of 40 and continued into later life, demonstrating that volunteer activities are protective of mental health during middle and late adulthood.
Additional research has shown that those who sometimes or frequently volunteer have fewer depressive symptoms, suggesting that volunteering can be beneficial for those who live with depression. In this study, the relationship between volunteering and depression was explained by social connectedness, meaning that volunteering can reduce depressive symptoms by increasing a person’s social engagement.
In addition, volunteering is associated with a sense of life purpose, which can be healing for those who have symptoms of depression. Volunteering can also increase levels of physical activity, which can provide additional benefits for those who struggle with depression. If you’re looking for ways to overcome depressive symptoms, local volunteer opportunities may be just what you need. As you connect with others in the community through acts of service, you may find that symptoms like feelings of hopelessness and lack of pleasure in daily activities begin to fade away.
The Other Side of Volunteering: Helping Those With Mental Illness
Beyond using volunteering as a way to help alleviate your own depression, you could consider volunteering your time on behalf of those who live with mental health conditions like depression. Consider the following volunteer opportunities:
- Volunteer at a local nursing home: Interacting with a volunteer can significantly improve the mental health of nursing home residents. For those who do not have family in the area, a one-on-one visit can be uplifting. You might also consider volunteering to read to residents or help with game nights.
- Run a support group. For those who live with anxiety and depression, support groups can be a safe setting for working through challenges and making social connections. If you’ve overcome depression or have a background in mental health, volunteer an hour a week to run a local support group at a hospital, church, or mental health facility.
- Volunteer with a crisis hotline. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline relies on trained volunteers to take calls and texts from those in crisis and refer them to local mental health resources. If you’d like to give back, look into becoming trained and taking on volunteer shifts. You might just save a life.
- Get involved with community days. Many towns host community days, funded by the mental health board or a community mental health center, to call attention to the need for quality mental health services and to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. These events also tend to raise money for local mental health treatment centers. Volunteer to help with one of these events, or at least attend one to support the cause.
When you volunteer your time and talents to help those who live with mental health conditions, you make them feel heard, supported, and valuable. This can make a world of difference for those who struggle with depression and other mental health disorders.
Where to Volunteer in the Greater Los Angeles Area
If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities in Los Angeles, consider the following local options:
- The Salvation Army: The Salvation Army offers numerous centers in the Los Angeles area. Service offerings include casework, emergency financial assistance, emergency shelter, and assistance to military members. Contact a local office to determine how you can volunteer.
- Friends in Deed: Located in Pasadena, Friends in Deed offers services to those grappling with homelessness and poverty. They rely on volunteers to stay in operation.
- United Way Los Angeles: The Los Angeles branch of the United Way offers numerous volunteer opportunities. Get involved with one of their community events, or take part in their efforts to end homelessness.
- Big Sunday: Big Sunday offers various opportunities to get involved in local service projects, like school beautification, food drives, and projects for local non-profits.
- NAMI Los Angeles: The Los Angeles chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) exists to meet the needs of local families affected by mental illness. Fill out a volunteer form on their webpage to get involved.
Whether you’re looking to volunteer in order to benefit your own mental health, or you’re interested in helping those in need, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities in the Los Angeles area. Numerous community agencies are dedicated to fighting against societal issues like poverty, homelessness, violence, and mental illness. Your time spent volunteering in the community could change the life of someone who lives with mental illness, or it could become part of your own healing journey.
Seeking Treatment for Mental Health
Volunteering can be a great way to give back to your community and increase your own mental wellbeing, but if you’re living with symptoms of depression, you may also need professional treatment. If usual depression treatment modalities like medication and therapy are not beneficial, you may be a candidate for TMS, a non-invasive procedure that uses a device placed against the forehead to stimulate areas of the brain involved in mood.
Pulse TMS provides services in the Los Angeles area. Contact us today to determine if you’re a TMS candidate.